Book of Love: Open Book
The popularity of electronic dance music (EDM) has produced several interesting byproducts, chief among them a rediscovery of '80s-era synth-pop and the artists who produced it. This has resulted in many of these acts re-forming, and not just to cash in on the nostalgia factor. Depeche Mode, Heaven 17 and Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (OMD) are just a few acts in the old synth guard who have released brand-new material in 2013, OMD's album English Electric to critical acclaim.
The latest New Wave-era synth-pop band to explore a new phase of creativity is Book of Love, who rose to fame in the mid-'80s with high-fructose dance hits such as "Boy," "You Make Me Feel So Good" and "Modigliani (Lost in Your Eyes)," the latter due to its inclusion on the soundtrack of classic John Hughes comedy Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. Several tours with Depeche Mode and heavy play in dance clubs cemented Book of Love's place as one of America's foremost synthesizer bands.
Houston might seem like an odd place for Book of Love to re-launch, as it were, if only for the fact that they are from the East Coast.
"It was through our manager, who lives in Texas," explains Book of Love's chief songwriter, Ted Ottaviano. "We're always working on things, and he just mentioned that there was interest in us coming down."
Ottaviano is also currently in The Myrmidons along with fellow Book of Love member Lauren Johnson (formerly Roselli) and singer Lori Lindsay. The Myrmidons just released The Blue EP, but, after chatting with BOL lead singer Susan Ottaviano (no relation, weirdly), Ted felt maybe the time was right for a reunion of the old band.
"I said, 'Let's put this together and see if it works,' he says. "It's been a lot of fun working together as a team again. It's been great."
Unfortunately, keyboardist Jade Lee, who now works in graphic design, will not be part of the Houston show, though she is still a full member of Book of Love and joins the group when her schedule permits. The band last performed in 2009, Lee included, at another one-off gig, this one to celebrate the reissue of Book of Love's back catalog by Collector's Choice Music. Today, besides Lee's new career, Lauren is married with kids and Susan is a successful food stylist and fellow parent.
"Our lives were all in a place where we weren't interested (in re-forming)," explains Ted. "But now we're in a place where we might want to work on some new music."
That would mark the band's first output as Book of Love since 1993's Lovebubble, their fourth and last, brought an end to the band after more than a decade of making music together. Only one new song, "Try," emerged during their 16-year hiatus, recorded for a 2001 Best of collection.
"Susan and Jade went to the Philadelphia College of Art," explains Ted. "Lauren and I went to the School of Visual Arts in New York. When Susan and Jade finished college, they moved to New York. We all lived within a few blocks of each other, and started doing it for real as opposed to this long-distance make-believe band that we were doing."
In 1984, Lauren Johnson slipped a copy of the group's track "Boy" to DJ/producer Ivan Ivan, a move that resulted in a recording contract with Sire Records; debut LP Book of Love arrived in the spring of 1986. In interviews from the time of the band's second album, 1988's Lullaby, Ted lamented that Book of Love was less a cohesive album and more a collection of songs — but what a collection.
"We spent two or three years writing all of those songs," he says. "We had a chance to weed out the ones that didn't really hold up. [Book of Love] is a collection of goodies and the songs have held up well over time, that's for sure."
With a small but very loyal following, Book of Love continued to tour and make records into the early 1990s, when a tidal wave of grunge swept nearly everyone who wasn't wearing flannel and banging on a guitar out to sea. Some synth bands, like Houston natives The Hunger, were able to embrace their inner industrial side and soldier on. But for groups like Dallas's T-42, Information Society, Exotic Birds, and Cause and Effect, the dance party was over. Ted sees it a little differently, though.
"I wouldn't say grunge killed [synth-pop]," he says. "I would say that tastes changed and audiences wanted to hear different things. We did as music fans, too."
As industrial, house and techno took hold, Book of Love's music sounded out of place, even to the band's own members.
"You could feel the tide changing," admits Ted. "We could have continued if we had wanted to, but basically we had done our thing at that point."
Today, a lot of what Book of Love was doing back in the day has come back into fashion — not just in EDM, but with pop music in general. Even the song structures have an '80s feel.
"You can really throw back to our genre and hear it in so much of the music that's out now — it's just amazing," says Ted. "Everything is generated electronically, even if it sounds like traditional instruments.
"There are all of these adventurous soundscapes now. I remember when we started, having so many sounds to choose from, it became almost superfluous," he continues. "Now songs have layer upon layer of sounds and hooks, something synth-pop was doing in the '80s that a lot of people didn't like. You hear it now even in the most mainstream records."
A forgotten aspect of Book of Love's music is how forward-thinking the band was lyrically. Long before Erasure and Pet Shop Boys worked up the nerve to address such issues, BOL sang about sexual orientation and gender roles ("Boy"), and AIDS ("Pretty Boys and Pretty Girls"), while still finding time to embrace faith and spirituality ("Counting the Rosaries"). In some ways, one could argue that their return is long overdue and that they should be encouraged to blaze new trails in the 21st century.
Of course, schedules and prior commitments will need to be sorted out should the band opt to begin recording and touring again. Though nothing is set in stone, if all goes well, Ted and Lauren could find themselves splitting time between The Myrmidons and Book of Love's new chapter.
Book of Love performs Saturday, April 27, at Numbers, 300 Westheimer, 713-526-6551 or numbersnightclub.com. Doors open at 9 p.m.
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